The Current War: Director’s Cut (Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland) – Thomas Edison is widely known as the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, motion pictures and so much more. He is an American icon, rock star, and historical giant. George Westinghouse is virtually unknown by the American people. He isn’t studied in school. Nicola Tesla is known more for the car named after him than for his incredible insight into the future.
The Current War is a badly named film. It isn’t about Afghanistan, the current war. It’s a period piece about the epic battle between Edison and Westinghouse to establish the country’s electrical standard. Set from 1880 through the turn of the 20th century, the movie dramatizes the fierce rivalry between these two giants of industry to decide whether Edison’s direct current (DC) will electrify the nation or whether Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC) will prevail. Edison may have been the more famous of the two, but it was Westinghouse who ultimately won although both AC and DC continue to exist today. Some might even argue that DC has made a comeback.
Edison will forever be revered, and for good reason. The light bulb revolutionized the world. And his other inventions proved his amazing foresight. He changed our lives. Westinghouse (who was based in my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh), invented the air brake and led the eponymous corporation that eventually was a pioneer in appliances, broadcasting, and manufacturing. Tesla invented the motor that ran on AC current, translating electricity into practical use beyond just lighting.
The film tells this generally unknown story and gives us insight into these three people. Edison is portrayed by Brit Benedict Cumberbatch (with an impressive American accent) as an insecure, competitive genius whose quest to control the dispersion of electricity forces him to sacrifice his principles in order to win. Michael Shannon plays Westinghouse as a principled businessman who wants to turn electricity into a business asset. Tesla, as played by Nicolas Hoult, is a brilliant, confident thinker who worked for both men but bonded with Westinghouse, who gave him free rein to use his considerable skill.
The acting is exceptional. The pacing is a bit slow and contrived. This is a mood film that fails to deliver much emotion. But its strength rests in the story it is telling, one that few people ever learned yet is so important to the history of our country and the world.
There is a fascinating back-story to this film. Originally financed by The Weinstein Company, this film was in the editing process in 2017 when the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit. Everything stopped. And after that company declared bankruptcy, this film was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to middling reviews. Another company bought it, re-cut (re-edited) it, and is about to release it this month, a full two years after it premiered.
Renamed with the Director’s Cut label in the title, it was shortened with some new scenes shot. It is a very good, if not a great, film. Look for it in art houses later this month.